Start a Project. Kill a Project.

The Last Postcards (sent from Paris, Jan 3 2015)
The Last Postcards (sent from Paris, Jan 3 2015)

I have been enjoying everyone’s year in review posts, and reading what they hope to achieve over the next year. I love the enthusiasm and the new projects starting, but one thing I love even more is when I see people defining what they will do less of in 2016.

For myself, I set my self a limit of 6 talks in 2016. This is a big constraint (in 2015 I gave 6 – different – talks in September alone). I’m also working to shed various things, most notably admin work (I will write more about how my word for 2016 is “scale”).

Because the thing is, what you don’t do, is maybe more important than what you do do. When we say no to things, we create space. Then it’s up to us what we do with it.

Like many people, I started the year with a new project. Well, instead I called it a challenge – it’s to send a digital postcard from every place I leave in 2016. I called it, since people ask me this a lot, Where the Hell is Cate?

This came from the fact that I have realised that I only really stay in touch with people I communicate with on Twitter or IM. I don’t really use Facebook, and I am exceptionally bad at email. Sometimes I exchange emails with friends who are like “tell me everything” and I don’t even know how to respond… I mean I tweeted about it all, right? I don’t want to rehash it again. Every so often I send an email and include some longer form rambling about travel, or life. Things that aren’t particularly personal, but that I wouldn’t put on the public web.

So: I decided that I could accept email as an outward bound form of communication, registered a domain, and started working on the first one (which I sent out yesterday from CDG airport). Basically I have taken everything I know about sustainable projects and applied it here. It may still fail, but at least should it fail it will fail in a new way that I cannot predict.

1. Low bar. I firmly believe that most things fail because we set the bar for success too high. Whilst yesterday I sent out a lengthy essay talking about loneliness, languages, and commenting on the history of luggage, the bar is a picture and a favourite thing. I can put that together in 15 minutes at the airport as I wait for a flight. It feels very possible.

2. Specific Trigger. I believe in a schedule. I operate my blog on a schedule. We run Technically Speaking on a schedule. If something is “optional”, it needs to have a specific trigger to happen because otherwise the constraint is “ready” and then it becomes very easy to overthink and delay. I usually use time as the trigger, but for this project the trigger is leaving. It’s the airport.

3. Something Must End. At this point anything coming into my life means that something must leave it. When I contemplate a project I ask myself “what will I give up to do this project?” and if the answer is “nothing” then that is a sign that project should not happen. I shed a bunch of things to start my job, so projects that remain are ones that I really, deeply love. It is very hard for me to make space for a new project. For WTHIC, I am giving up two things: 1) the rambly emails periodically sent to friends, 2) sending postcards.

One of the interesting and challenging things for me is the idea of creating something transient and ephemeral. I am very into the Documentation of Achievements, and rather than have the same conversation multiple times, I write things up in blog posts and then I can just share them. (Sometimes, when I write sentences like this, I am amazed I have any friends, let alone many). But one thing about transient and ephemeral is that is affords a greater level of privacy and a lower expectation of judgement than the forever web. A postcard is just a point in time. A blogpost is much closer to forever, or forever in digital terms, at least.

Why Kill Postcards?

I started sending postcards when I left Australia. It started as a controlled way to stay “in touch”, if you can call it that, with my favourite ex boyfriend. Leaving Australia also meant leaving him, and that broke my heart. Even though it was the right thing to do. Even though he and I were never going to figure it out. I started sending him postcards, from my adventures, as a way to let him know that I still thought about him, and still missed him, but not in a way that we actually had to… have a conversation.

Over time, I started adding in other people to send postcards to, particularly friends who I knew were having a rough time. And sometimes I would tweet, and send a postcard to anyone who wanted one. This has been a surprisingly time-consuming activity. Sending 5 postcards from Paris yesterday took ~45 minutes (and where to find stamps had been on my mind for days). Sending 24 postcards (and 2 packages) from Easter Island took – I am not kidding – at least 3 hours. I spent 1-2 hours mailing postcards and failing to mail those packages from Santiago. I spent at least 2 hours writing and mailing things in Croatia.

I was really happy to share a bit of my adventures with people, and really happy so many people wanted postcards! But this project was a prime one for killing for a few reasons:

  • I’m heading to Colombia, a place where there is basically no postal service (I bought postcards when I was there in April, and ended up mailing them from Santiago).
  • I get very little feedback from people who receive them. What was a feature of sending things to the ex – a communication medium outside, no need to respond – is a bug when it comes to sending them to other people. I asked a friend recently if he got the postcard I sent and he said, “yes I took a picture of it!” (He did not Social Media the picture, so does it really exist at all?)
  • It’s superficial. I write at most 1-2 personalised sentences per postcard, but usually just “hi from <LOCATION>. I pick cards that I think may speak to people, but usually it’s quite generic. I think people liked postcards because it connected them to my bizarre nomadic life, but did it really? It’s just a physical object transported from one place to another. It does not convey anything more than “I was here”.


Start a project. Kill a project. Postcards are dead. For 2016, if you want to know about my nomadic life, let me send you letters from airports: Where the Hell is Cate.

And if you are here for the musings about sustainability of projects and don’t care where I am, I leave you with the thought: things only exist if there is space for them. What space do the projects in your life need, and how do you plan to create it?

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